geoffrey gauchet

Brogrammers and Other Disgraces to Technology

I’m a programmer. Okay, to be fair, I usually call myself a developer, but let’s face it: that means I’m a programmer. 

For years and years, programmers or any sort of person in the technology field have always been looked at as these nerdy guys with pocket protectors living in their parents’ basements. It’s a stereotype that has been reinforced pretty much every single day. Thanks, Steve Urkell.

We’ve all dealt with it — the mocking in popular culture, sure, but the name calling in high school, the physical beatings from non-geeky students, the exclusion from activities and games and parties. It sucked. It was hard. But, at least for me, this gave me the fuel and the desire to do cool things and become moderately successful. 

But then something really cool happened in the mid-2000s — the iPhone and Android were born. People started seeing technology as something beautiful and great and, most telling, cool.

And the smartphone revolution began and apps started happening and because of their ease of creation, everyone got in on it. Suddenly, knowing how to write an app impressed people. 

I’ve always tried to embrace my nerdiness. I know the things I like and I know why i like them. Not everyone thinks wearing a T-shirt with Robert E. Lee on it captioned “Most Likely to Secede” is funny, but I do and that’s all that matters. A lot people get a tattoo of something hardcore and badass, but I have two curly braces { } on my forearm. I like the things I like.

But, I’m also a person that likes when other people like things I like because that means the things I like will continue existing so I can like them. So as programming became sort of chic, I embraced it because, hey, more programmers means what I’m doing will stick around. No one speaks Sanskrit anymore and I didn’t want to see that happen to programming.

The new, young tech startups have created some really beautiful apps and websites and at the same time they’ve created some amazing work environments. For instance, check out one of the conference rooms that foursquare has. It’s gorgeous! Foursquare, like many young startups, even has a keg in the office for casual drinking at certain times of the day. This laid back, but kind-of-trendy environment is rampant among new tech companies. And I think it’s a healthy shift from the white-walled offices with rows and rows of cubicles.

This pseudo-glam in the tech world has brought in a wide variety of people into the community and I love it. Various races, ethnicities, men, women, young, old — everyone’s in the tech world. And that is an awesome thing.

But in every microcosm of society, you do get some people that just give everyone else a bad name. In the last 6 months, I can name three incidents that have occurred in the tech community that have been either exclusive against women or have down right insulted women.

This recent article from Mother Jones covers all of these and points out the VP of business development at social network Path and his “brogrammer” attitude. What’s a brogrammer? Well, besides a god-awful portmanteau, it’s a guy who writes code but is a dick about it. That’s pretty much the easiest way to describe it.

Imagine being at a bar one weekend and these two guys are wearing their Affliction shirts and doing Jager bombs and talking about stuff like “Yo, that broad over there? I’m gonna go talk at her and get her number ‘cause whaaaaaa?!”. Now, imagine those guys write code. That’s a brogrammer.

Look, to each their own. I don’t like Jager, but some of my friends do. I wouldn’t ever wear Affliction, but hey, I buy my clothes at Target, so whatever. But this sexist, chauvinist attitude that exists in other subcultures is seeping into the tech community and it really upsets me.

Historically, techie people were bullied and treated like less of a human being, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post. It’s something that most of us went through and dealt with and as a result, we’re generally pretty accepting of other people because, hey, we know how it is. This “brogrammer” attitude aims to dismantle that characteristic of being a geeky person. Pointing out that your female employees will be serving beer at your conference is terrible. Why aren’t they in on the discussions? Why are you even pointing this out? Why is women serving beer a plus for a conference, other than the fact that there’s beer? It’s sexist and exclusive.

There are women in tech everywhere. Heck, the only other developer at my day job is a woman and she could code circles around me. There are old people in tech. There are black people. There are Muslims. Every faction of the world is involved in technology, save for probably the Amish. Would a tech conference ever advertise that the beer would be served by black people? No, they wouldn’t. SO why would you advertise women serving beer?

And while the brogrammers give us a bad name, plenty of non-brogrammer types make this exclusion even worse. I keep seeing “Top 20 Women in Technology” lists, which, on the surface, is great. It showcases a group of people in the tech community that are often overlooked. However, it just furthers their exclusion from the tech community as a whole. By having a Top 20 Women in Tech list, you’re basically saying it’s fine that the “Top 20 Names in Tech” list only lists men. If the list is gender-neutral, it should encompass all genders. You’re giving the creaters of articles like that the subtle green light to just keep focusing on men because “Hey, there’s a whole list dedicated for just women, so…” and then it just keeps expanding and getting worse.

How about instead of separate lists and articles and groups for women in tech, we just start treating them as equals and including them in all the normal tech stuff?

In that Mother Jones article, there’s this gem of a quote from Alicia Liu in regards to the “brogrammer” term:

“Proglamming” and “brogramette” have also been tossed out, but none of the terms appeal to Alicia Liu, an San Francisco-based startup founder and web developer. “I’m still looking for a term for women that’s not derogatory, diminutive, or flippant,” she wrote on her blog.

Alicia, I have a suggestion for a term for women programmers that’s not derogatory, diminutive, or flippant. Brace yourself because it’s really progressive:

“Programmers”.

I know! It’s crazy that we should refer to both male and female programmers by the same term. But let’s look in other industries. In film, there’s male actors and female actresses, but in the last 10-15 years, “actress” is slowly being phased out in favor of just calling anyone who acts an “actor”. It’s simple, it’s easy, and it levels the playing field.

I know that this attitude toward women isn’t unique to tech — one only needs to watch television for a few minutes or read a magazine or sit in a bar or watch the Republican primary debates — but that doesn’t make it okay. In fact, it means those of us in the tech community — the pioneers of new ideas by very definition — need to fix it on our side.

It kills me that this community has a large sect that behaves like this. In addition to the attitude toward women, there’s the constant need for swearing in presentation slides. Look, I swear like a son-of-a-bitch and couldn’t give a shit what words people use, but there are times and places for that behavior. There’s no need to use slides like “Don’t forget your fucking semicolons!” during your jQuery talk. Or, if you really need to, maybe alter your “Don’t be a bitch and put your script tags at the bottom!” slide. Moderation.

In addition, there have been a few articles about booze being served at conferences. I think that it’s awesome that booze is served at conferences! But not everyone does. Not every can or wants to drink. Try having other beverages there, too.

We don’t all have to act like Justin Timberlake’s Sean Parker in The Social Network. Being a chauvinistic, alcoholic potty-mouth isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? A billion dollars is cool.

Be good at what you do and people will respect you. You don’t have to be a jerk to be liked or successful, but you don’t have to be a prude either. It’s fine to unwind and maybe speak off-the-cuff, but there are times and places for this behavior. Be smart and know when to do it, but always, always, always respect other human beings, especially those that are in your community and work just as hard as you.


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